Barry Spruce Photography

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Archive for ‘July, 2015’

Atlantic Puffin


The Atlantic Puffin is also called the Common Puffin. It is the only Puffin found in the Atlantic Ocean and is smaller than it’s Pacific cousins the Horned Puffin and Tufted Puffin. They usually only make landfall to breed for a few months in the summer. The breeding and raising of chicks typically takes place on rocky North Atlantic islands or off the coasts of Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Labrador and Newfoundland. They also breed in colonies as far south as the British Isles or the state of Maine.

When Puffins are fully grown they are only around 11 inches tall. They stand and waddle in a similar fashion to penguins. They are black and white and in late Spring develop a thicker and brighter colored bill. The breeding Puffin’s bill turns orange as do their feet. They have one advantage over other birds from the Auk family. That advantage is longer more distinct toenails that enable them to burrow into the ground as well as nest in rock cavities similar to Razorbills and Common Muirs. The puffins are the smallest of these Auks that all breed and raise young in close quarters amongst the rocks on these coasts and islands. They seem aware of this and tend to stay clear of the others making their way back to their nesting cavities.

Generally they lay just one egg and leave the chicks behind when they become the same size as themselves, usually within 6 weeks. Both parents take turns hunting and feeding the chicks. After being abandoned by their parents, the chicks leave under the cover of night. Once they make it to the water they won’t touch land again until 2-3 years later when they become sexually mature.

The Atlantic Puffins that breed off the coast of Maine do so on a few different islands. By far the biggest and most researched island is Machias Seal Island. This island is only 11 acres in size. It is 9 miles off shore from Cutler Maine which is the closest American seaport and the home of Bold Coast Charter Company. The Babara Frost captained by Andy Patterson is the only American tourist vessel allowed to land on the the island from the end of May through the middle of August. There is also one Canadian vessel named Day’s Catch that can make landfall and it leaves from Grand Manan New Brunswick. These Puffin Tours are extremely popular and many dates book solid in the first two weeks of January which is when they start taking reservations. I booked the landing tour for Saturday July 11, 2015 and my Machias Seal Island photography on my website and FaceBook page are from that tour.

Common Loon


The Common Loons of North America are seen mostly in the Northern states in summer. They dwell in the fresh water lakes so are mostly in the states that have plenty of lakes to choose from. It is the state bird of Minnesota. Northern New England and Canada are other good spots to find them during the summer months. Canada frequently uses their image on national currency. Sometimes younger adults can be seen during this time in the Atlantic Ocean along the New England coastline. For a long time researchers weren’t sure where the Common Loons went in Winter and when radio collar technology came around, it provided the answers. Most believed that they travelled South to warmer climates and indeed many do. What did surprise the researchers was the amount that flew east to the ocean.

Common Loons like the waters of small and midsize lakes but have to be careful not to get stranded on lakes that are too small. They require a long runway for take off due to their legs being positioned far back on their bodies. The small lake stranding scenario becomes an even greater concern in the Fall when it is time to migrate. If ice forms on the outer edges in a Fall evening, it can leave the loons to short of an area to take flight. The mature and parenting loons are the first to migrate and generally leave in late September. The chicks that are born around the 1st week in July are the last to leave usually 2-3 weeks after the adults. Researchers are still not certain how these birds know where to go and if they realize the dangers that early ice could bring them.

Mating loons usually choose an island location and both sexes build the nest. An island helps protect the eggs from some mainland predators. The female lays between 1-3 eggs which hatch a month later. Most females lay 2 eggs and both sexes incubate the eggs and watch and feed the chicks after they hatch. Most breeding pairs fledge only one bird due to weather, stress, predators and humans. Unfortunately for the loons, their chicks hatch around the July 4th week which is the busiest week on the lakes for humans and their boats. Turtles lurk below the waters and raptor birds above in the sky. The increase in homes on more and more lakes has increased pressures as well as the strong bounce back in the population of Bald Eagles post DDT ( a chemical sprayed on crops to control pest insects that subsequently infected rodents and resulted in the eagles laying thinner shelled eggs which hatched prematurely).

Fortunately for the loons, humans who are partially responsible for their numbers decreasing, are now beating the conservation drum. Organizations have been formed in recent decades which have put into motion many measures to protect the Common Loon. Legislation has been passed, the public is being educated and nesting is being assisted through man made platforms. All these measures are making small incremental changes in keeping loon numbers from further decline and hopefully along with new countermeasures will start to increase loon population.

The Loon photos attached to this blog are my images obtained from my recent photography trip to New Hampshire, Maine and Canada. All the loon photos were taken on Northeast Pond in NH and just minutes from my childhood family lake camp in Milton NH. Special thanks to my sister Terri Mellen and her boyfriend Captain Paul Barca for helping with locating the loons and providing water transportation to the sites. Stay connected to my Website and FB photography page for future posts on Bobolink from Durham, NH., Atlantic Puffins off the coast of ME and lighthouses and wildflowers from Canada.